Monday, 4 April 2016

A Thing I Love: Decluttering


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Day 4


I thought I'd start the week with something different, so I want to take the chance to talk about decluttering, and why I'm doing it. I thought it might be a light hearted, positive way thing to talk about... it's only been in the writing of the piece that I've come to realise how much there's another side to all of this... not something I would call sinister but certainly something with a dark edge.

At present we're in the third or fourth wave of decluttering, which has been an ongoing project for a while now. In part we're doing it because there's too much stuff in the house, or because we'd really like to have our spare room back (and in particularly I want to be able to work in here - it's where my computer is and I quite like having access to it). On an on and off basis the past few years have seen us trotting off with carrier bags of books, DVDs and the like, taking them to charity shops, to the dump and just generally... away. Never to darken our doors again.

Gods willing, anyway.

For me there were a few things that made me want to do it properly though, to cut right back to what we needed, and strive to keep it that way. Part of it was the realisation that as I get older I want better products, I wanted to delineate my possessions to reflect who I am, rather than clinging on to who I was, once... long ago. I want to be surrounded by things that mean something to me, that I can pick up and feel I love, whether that's a book, or a CD, or even a kitchen knife. I think it's become bound up with my feelings about authenticity, that to be happy we must be true to ourselves and not compromise overly much. The more we give away our power over selves, the less happy we will be.

Another reason is that I started to realise that time is really just another currency: you spend it, you hoard it, you save it... why would you choose to spend it doing things that are tedious, that don't bring you joy? Work aside, surely there's enough rubbish in the world that gets in the way of us fulfilling our heart's desires (even if occasionally that heart's desire might be involve eating chocolate and building Lego sets), let alone our potentials as human beings. I now don't really understand why anyone would fill their lives with lots of things that require maintenance, especially if those things are inanimate. Every new gadget and amazing piece of technology can be just another time wasting device and the true cost of something can be the amount of time you spend taking care of it. Life is, bluntly, too short for such nonsense and part of the appeal of decluttering is that it's about getting control back over your life and stopping the things you own from taking that agency away from you.

A friend of mine from work is a real decluttering guru, a real inspiration. She got me started on the Magic Art of Tidying Up, though I must confess Eve owns the book, rather than me (and I wince at 'mystic woo' ideas like thanking your socks for wearing them...). We are currently working our way through our house, pulling out the things that can be got rid of. I have a big pile of things to sell, and I hope to get on with that this week as she's off work and it feels very much like a two person job. So far our bedroom is mostly done, and we've done the books and graphic novels as well as doing a lot of the spare room. Mostly my next job is to slowly work through my many notebooks and files of notes and type everything up. I'm sure other people would say I'm missing a trick - the chance to sell notebooks at some point, but I'd rather have the space.

The space is what I need.

The other reason for my drive towards a clutter free life is that over the past few years I've developed anxiety, on the back of depressive tendencies that I've had as long as I can remember. For a long time I've felt like my life isn't really mine to control, my decisions were brushed to one side; my opinions often made to feel as if I was the dumbest person in the room. I do a job I don't feel confident at, and which drives me mad because it feels frequently as if it was designed by bureaucrats with a fetish for making things as complicated as possible. Perhaps it's just my age and my brain plasticity is shot to shit, but it genuinely feels as if everything is made more complex than it need to be. The general fucks ups I've made in the job have made me feel as if I can't do anything right, and no matter how many times I'm reassured that I'm not doing the job so badly, or that admin is something everyone screws up... The effect is the same and it's become something I actively hate.

One of the symptoms of the anxiety, ironically for almost anyone who's worked with me I'm sure,  is that I can't really abide clutter. This is very much based on perception, again I need to be able to see space. Not so long ago I went into the kitchen after a day of baking and cooking and panicked because I couldn't see anywhere to set down the things I was carrying.

The condition has combined with my tendency towards choice paralysis in some areas, and people pleasing (a legacy of a youth where I was told repeatedly that nobody liked me: I over compensated by becoming a door mat who could only assert himself in passive aggressive fashions) to make me feel incredibly uncomfortable with a lot of social situations. I'd adopted a bad habit of trying to have things like roleplaying games for every occasion, and into comfort buying for when my job got me down. Consequently my shelves were starting to groan under the books I bought, books I didn't really enjoy because they were just 'stuff'. This isn't to say that I don't love books - quite the contrary but I was wasting money on books because I needed the lift of buying them, rather than purchasing things that had any real worth for me.

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At the same time I was getting sick of myself, I have an instinctive need to be surrounded by useful things. I hated the fact that my desire to please everyone was just making me less and less comfortable in my own skin, making me doubt myself, and that I was holding onto things that I had no use for.

As a consequence I felt trapped and decluttering has become the way in which I treat myself because it lets me feel as if I'm moving forward, as if I'm exerting some sort of control over my life. It allows me to step back and assess what I keep in my life, what I'm willing to spend 'spoons' on. Some time in the wilderness has allowed me to identify what I like, and given me the courage to start standing by my convictions. Basically it's allowing me to hack my way towards the person I feel I should be, rather than the one everyone else has told me I should be. I hope by the end of it all to be able to stand tall and feel as if it's my life and I'm doing what i need to, rather than miming my way through somebody else's script.